FAQs

Are mental illness and mental retardation related?

No. Mental illness has nothing to do with a person’s intelligence. Most developmentally disabled people have no psychiatric problems; many persons diagnosed with mental illness are very intelligent.

What does it mean to have a mental illness?

Mental illnesses are medical conditions that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others, and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.

Some of the more common disorders are depression, bipolar disorder, dementia, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders. Symptoms may include changes in mood, personality, personal habits and/or social withdrawal. When these occur in children under 18, they are referred to as serious emotional disturbances (SEDs). Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion, or income.

Here are some important facts about mental illness and recovery:

  • Mental illnesses are biologically-based brain disorders. They cannot be overcome through “will power” and are not related to a person’s “character” or intelligence.
  • It is estimated that mental illness affects 1 in 5 or 43.8 million adults in America. Mental disorders fall along a continuum of severity. Even though mental disorders are widespread in the population, the main burden of illness is concentrated in a much smaller proportion, nearly 10 million Americans, or 1 in 25 people suffer from a serious mental illness.
  • Mental illnesses usually strike individuals in the prime of their lives, often during adolescence and young adulthood. All ages are susceptible, but the young and the old are especially vulnerable.
  • The best treatments for serious mental illnesses today are highly effective; between 70 and 90 percent of individuals have significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with a combination of pharmacological and psychosocial treatments and supports.
  • With appropriate effective medication and a wide range of services tailored to their needs, most people who live with serious mental illnesses can significantly reduce the impact of their illness and find a satisfying measure of achievement and independence. A key concept is to develop expertise in developing strategies to manage the illness process.
  • Early identification and treatment is of vital importance. By ensuring access to the treatment and recovery supports that are proven effective, recovery is accelerated and the further harm related to the course of illness is minimized.
Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI

What is considered a serious mental illness?

Serious mental illnesses include major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and borderline personality disorder. All mental disorders fall along a continuum of severity.

How common is mental illness?

After heart disease, mental illness is the nation’s second leading cause of disability. The U.S. Surgeon General estimates 23% of American adults, 18 and older, (about 44 million people) and 20% of American children suffer from a mental disorder during a given year. And, according to a 2008 study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health (The Numbers Count: Mental Disorder in America), almost 2.5 million people are affected by schizophrenia and nearly 20 million adults are affected by mood disorders (e.g., major depression and bipolar disorder) in any given year.

  • It is estimated that mental illness affects 1 in 5 families in America.
  • Mental illnesses usually strike individuals between the ages of 14 and 24, often during adolescence and young adulthood.

What causes mental illness?

Although the exact cause of most mental illnesses is not known, it is becoming clear through research that many of these conditions are caused by a combination these factors below:

Inherited traits. Mental illness is more common in people whose biological family members also have a mental illness.

Biological factors. In addition to inherited traits, outside forces can also be linked to mental illness – such as traumatic brain injury or exposure to viruses or toxins while in the womb.

Life experiences and environmental factors can trigger the symptoms of mental illness such as the loss of a loved one or financial stress. The environment has also been linked to mental illness – neglect, a dysfunctional family life, poverty and instability lead to feelings of low self-esteem, anxiety, and anger or distorted ways of thinking.

Brain chemistry. Also known as biochemical causes or chemical imbalances, which affect mood and other aspects of mental health.

(Source: Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinic.com/health/mental illness)

Is anyone immune to mental illness?

Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion, or income. They do not discriminate.

Although mental illnesses can affect anyone, certain conditions such as eating disorders tend to occur more often in females, and other disorders such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder more commonly occur in children.

         Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

Can mental illness be prevented?

Most mental illnesses are caused by a combination of factors and cannot be prevented.

What are some of the warning signs of mental illness?

Symptoms of mental disorders vary depending on the type and severity of the condition. Some general symptoms that may suggest a mental disorder include:

In adults:

  • Confused thinking
  • Long-lasting sadness or irritability
  • Extreme highs and lows in mood
  • Excessive fear, worrying or anxiety
  • Social withdrawal
  • Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Strong feelings of anger
  • Delusions or hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not really there)
  • Increasing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Denial of obvious problems
  • Many unexplained physical problems
  • Abuse of drugs and/or alcohol

In older children and pre-teens:

  • Abuse of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Inability to cope with daily problems and activities
  • Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
  • Excessive complaints of physical problems
  • Defying authority, skipping school, stealing or damaging property
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Long-lasting negative mood, often along with poor appetite and thoughts of death
  • Frequent outbursts of anger

In younger children:

  • Changes in school performance
  • Poor grades despite strong efforts
  • Excessive worrying or anxiety
  • Hyperactivity
  • Persistent nightmares
  • Persistent disobedience and/or aggressive behavior
  • Frequent temper tantrums

What should I do if I know someone who appears to have all of the symptoms of a serious mental disorder?

Although this website cannot substitute for professional advice, we encourage those with symptoms to talk to their friends and family members. If you know someone who is having problems, don’t just think that they will snap out of it. Let them know that you care about them, and there are ways this can be treated. Notify a family member, a mental health professional, a counselor or someone if you think you have symptoms or if a friend has symptoms. The more you or your friends realize how many people care about them, the more likely it will be that treatment will be sought.

What do I need to know about medications?

The best source of information regarding medications is the physician prescribing them. He or she should be able to answer questions such as:

  • What is the medication supposed to do and when should it begin to take effect?
  • How is the medication taken and for how long?
  • What food, drinks, other medicines, and activities should be avoided while taking this medication?
  • What are the side effects and what should be done if they occur?
  • What do I do if a dose is missed?
  • Is there any written information available about this medication?
  • Are there other medications that might be appropriate? If so, why do you prefer the one you have chosen?
  • How do you monitor medications and what symptoms indicate that they should be raised, lowered, or changed?

All medications should be taken as directed. Most medications for mental illnesses do not work when taken irregularly, and extra doses can cause severe, sometimes dangerous side effects. Many psychiatric medications begin to have a beneficial effect only after they have been taken for several weeks.

If a medication is prescribed to me and I begin to feel better after taking it is it okay to stop taking it?

It is not uncommon for people to stop taking their medication when they feel their symptoms have become controlled. Others may choose to stop their medication because of side effects. A person may not realize that most side effects can be effectively managed. While it may seem reasonable to stop taking the medication, the problem is that at least 50% of the time the symptoms come back. If you or your child are taking medication, it is very important that you work together with your doctor before making decisions about any changes in your treatment.

Another problem with stopping the medication, especially if you stop it abruptly, is that you may develop withdrawal symptoms that can be very unpleasant. If you and your doctor feel a trial off your medicine is a good idea, it is necessary to slowly decrease the dosage of medications so that these symptoms don’t occur.

It is important that your doctor and pharmacist work together to make sure your medications are working safely and effectively. You should talk to them about how you are doing and whenever there are side effects that might make you want to stop your treatment.

What is depression and what are the symptoms?

Unlike normal emotional experiences of sadness, loss or passing mood states, major depression is persistent and can significantly interfere with an individual’s thoughts, behavior, mood, activity and physical health. Among all medical illnesses, major depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States and many other developed countries. Without treatment, the frequency of depressive illness as well as the severity of symptoms tends to increase over time. Left untreated, depression can lead to suicide. Common symptoms include:

  • Loss of energy
  • Prolonged sadness
  • Decreased activity and energy
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Inability to concentrate or make decisions
  • Increased feelings of worry and anxiety
  • Less interest or participation in, and less enjoyment of activities normally enjoyed
  • Feelings of guilt and hopelessness
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Change in appetite (either eating more or eating less)
  • Change in sleep patterns (either sleeping more or sleeping less)

(Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI))

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